“It is refreshing to find a screen vampire who relishes being a monster”: Interview with the Vampire reviewed in 1995

As Interview with the Vampire returns to cinemas this month for its 30th anniversary, we look back at an original review of Neil Jordan’s lavish horror from our February 1995 issue.

Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt as Lestat and Louis in Interview with the Vampire (1994)

Instantly after publication in 1975, Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire was optioned for filming, and has been in development ever since. It is easy to see what made the property so attractive, as it is to see the snags that have delayed production for nearly 20 years. The novel has roles uniquely suited to male film stars (defending his controversial casting of Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, Neil Jordan correctly points out that Rice’s glamorous, self-regarding, luminous monsters demand to be played by bigger-than-life name actors) and contains set-pieces which read like spectacular movie scenes (several of which Jordan has omitted).

It also has the historic sweep of a TV mini-series, combined with perverse material that could never be done on American network television and an all-in-one-night narrative frame that would resist serialisation even though the straggling plot might provide a working description of the term ‘episodic’. The thorniest problem of all, though, is Rice’s use of the vampire myth not for horror but for philosophical enquiry, with Louis maundering on at length about his place in the universe under God.

In the event, after much public argument and kiss-and-make-up between author and film-makers, the film of Interview is perhaps as strong as it could be, given concealed but inherent weaknesses in the original material. Sometimes, as it trips through two centuries, the film overdoses on montage: decades are encapsulated with a flurry of impressions that can never convey the changelessness that so frustrates Claudia. However, the kitsch-sounding summation of the twentieth century in terms of movie sunrises (Sunrise, Nosferatu et al) is surprisingly effective, even to the throwaway punch line that has Louis re-encountering Lestat after wasting an evening on Tequila Sunrise. Exposed by the adaptation are some astonishingly ramshackle plot transitions, papered over by clever banter in the novel, but shown up for arrant melodrama here. By the time Louis has ended a third episode by burning down the set, the device becomes tiresome.

Fortunately, Jordan’s work here is more in keeping with the fantastical The Company of Wolves than the echt-Hollywood of High Spirits. Never allowing make-up effects to swamp character as he did in his werewolf outing, Jordan achieves tiny moments of inexplicable creepiness (the stone eyes of the tomb image of Louis’ dead wife closing as he dies) and genuinely shocking scenes of physical horror (Lestat’s blood pouring from his throat in a tide that threatens Claudia’s delicate pumps). While the first half sometimes seems cramped for an historical epic, the trip to Paris allows for marvellous full-blooded decadences such as the vampire theatre with its Jean Rollin-like ritual cruelties. Sadly, the last-minute reversal, as Lestat pops up magically in Molloy’s car without any narrative justification, reduces the grand vision to just another horror movie.

Brad Pitt and Kirsten Dunst in Interview with the Vampire (1994)

Though Louis is given an unusual interior life, and Lestat and Claudia remain among the most striking vampire characters in fiction, everyone else who passes through the overpopulated story is stuck with being a one-scene victim or a plot contrivance. Stephen Rea’s Santiago, who has a neat Chaplinesque introduction as he teases Louis on a Paris street, suffers especially from an ill-thought-out subplot. He first declares it unforgivable for one vampire to murder another. Then he kills Claudia merely on suspicion, incidentally destroying Madeleine and thus violating his own rule. Antonio Banderas’ gloomy Armand suffers from playing stooge to tiresome stretches of religious debate, then allows his life work to be wrecked for no real reason and steps out of the story, presumably to sulk for a few more centuries.

The film’s subtitle ‘The Vampire Chronicles’, which Rice has retroactively stuck on new editions of her book, indicates an ambition to chronicle all of vampire-kind, but the strength of the film is the uneasy, eroticised, disturbing relationship between Louis and Lestat. The elder vampire tries to nudge his prissier pupil into indulging a capacity for sin, and their shared crime – the creation of Claudia – is the event which ends the stasis of their lives, consigning Lestat to the past and pushing Louis out into the world in search of answers. While the import of Interview is in Louis’ quizzing of human and inhuman nature, the novel’s lasting appeal lies with Lestat and Claudia, and Jordan’s film is less likely to be remembered for its philosophy than for its action. Pitt’s pouting Louis signals modernity by confessing his confused alienation, which Armand marks as the characteristic of the age, but the devils get all the best tunes. Remarkably, 12 year-old Kirsten Dunst plays Claudia as an embittered woman in a pre-teenage body, a uniquely childish monster who kills her dressmaker or piano teacher on a whim and then nuzzles up to her ‘parents’ for approval.

In subsequent much inferior novels, Rice has recanted her depiction in Interview of Lestat as a dashing monster, infusing him with Louis’ conscience and introspection, but the character works best as a villain. Using an effeminate version of his Far and Away accent, Cruise is a fine narcissist monster. Demonstrating a wit rarely seen in his earlier work, he justifies his atrocities (“God kills indiscriminately and so shall we”) and complains after the Louisiana purchase that he dislikes the taste of democratic American blood. By contrast with Pitt, and following Gary Oldman’s lovelorn Dracula, it is refreshing to find a screen vampire who truly relishes being a monster. 

► Interview with the Vampire returns to select UK cinemas from 16 February.